Managing Remote Teams #2: How to Bring the Real YOU by Creating Group Norms


Psychological Safety

Managers are expected to be office superheroes. To be a bastion of company culture. To master their own responsibilities while shepherding a team of high-performing individuals.

Especially when managing remote teams.

A sign of terrific culture is a high-performing team.

High-performing teams are made up of individual contributors that are in synch and fire on all cylinders. They trust each other. They communicate 

We now know that a consistent trait of high-performing teamis that the people in them feel safe to be their authentic selves; they feel they can express their ideas without fear of reproach (thanks for studying this, Google). The thing that makes team members bring their authentic self to work? Psychological safety.  

Coined by Amy Edmunson, a Harvard organizational behavioral scientist, psychological safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” This concept boils down to this: you can bring the real YOU to work.  

How? How can you create the psychological safety that leads to high-performing teams? One way you can create psychological safety in your team is to establish group norms. 

Remote teams group decision-making

What Are Group Norms? 

Group norms are the written or unwritten code of conduct for how your team relates. It is essentially the micro-culture that exists within your squad. 

In a meeting, this translates to whether you dig into the agenda right away, or the team opens the meeting with a few minutes of chatter. Over phone, email, or Zoom, it is how your team talks (and listens) to each other. It is how the team shares input; how the team reaches decisions, together. 

It matters less what those norms are, and more that you have them. The consistency in behavior from one another iwhat creates psychological safety. The result is comfort, space, and ease of communication. 

The Group Norm Process 

How do you establish group norms? There are a few ways. 

You could kick off a dedicated group brainstorming session. Or, you could set an agenda item at the start of each meeting to tackle one norm item at a time. Try sending out a survey to the group and discuss the results in a forum. But just know that whatever you do, it is a collaborative process, and any decisions that need to be made are made as a group. 

There is no “right” answer for group norms. That’s the beauty and the beast of it. Therare, however, some crucial questions you can ask your team, the answers to which serve as the foundation of your group norms 

We’ve included those questions and some examples of norms that we at Culture-Rific have found that work.  

  • QUESTION: How do we manage team conflict? 

    • EXAMPLE NORM: We work out our conflicts with each other directly, one-on-one. 
    • EXAMPLE NORM: We have a “no gossip norm. 
  • QUESTION: How do we make group decisions?

    • EXAMPLE NORM: On matters that affect the team as a whole and/or each individual member, we strive for consensus. 
    • EXAMPLE NORM: We get everyone’s opinion before making a decision. 
  • QUESTION: How do we make sure we get everyone’s voice in the room?

    • EXAMPLE NORM: We design meetings so that everyone shares. 
    • EXAMPLE NORM: We go for a balance of introversion/extroversion. 
  • QUESTION: How do we give each other feedback? Both positive and constructive.

    • EXAMPLE NORM: We use the SBIsituation, behavior, impact model to give responses to the team. (See the video at the end of this post. Extra credit if you watch it. Double extra credit if you watch it with your team.)
    • EXAMPLE NORM: We live: “I will not be criticized for not knowing something.” 
  • QUESTION: How do we listen to each other?

    • EXAMPLE NORM: We employ active listening and conversational turntaking. 
    • EXAMPLE NORM: We strive for balancing advocacy and inquiry.

These are suggestions. Remember, develop the team norms that are true for the personality and culture of all of you. 

The Group Norm Upkeep 

Teams are continuously in the process of learning. Once norms are set, they need to be lived. 

Put five minutes at the end of the agenda for a plus/delta (or a hot wash, post-mortem, whatever your team calls it) to review how you did. Check in after a month to make sure you are honestly living the norms. Write the norms down. Have a group norm ambassador so that you can introduce new team members to the norms once they join. 

The Upshot of Group Norms

This sounds like it takes a lot of time and energy. And it does. Sorry. 

The upshot of establishing group norms is that you are taking a proactive stance on your team’s psychological security. The results are a happy, high-performing team. It’s as simple as that. 

Build in the timeEmbrace the energy it takes. Think, “if I have this norm established, I will have to intervene less in the dynamic nonsense.” If there are challenges in the group, there is a framework to address them. Without the norm, holding someone accountable for it would be weird. “Hey, Joshua, we have a norm around participation. I’d love to hear what you have to say about project ‘XYZ.’” 

We have a saying at Culture-Rific: the more preventions, the fewer interventionsIf you don’t create time to do the right thing, you’ll be forced to make the time to correct what goes wrong. An oil change can be annoying to fit into your dayBut it is better than having the car break down. 

According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, 43 percent of all respondents report a positive climate within their team. Managers, it’s not up to the C-Suite to make for a positive and engaging culture. Nope. You are responsible for creating this sense of safety. 

When you are proactive in preventing team breakdowns and in fostering a climate where your team feels free to show up as their true self, THAT is what moves you to superhero status. 

Oh, and here is that extra credit video.

Managers, we want to hear from you. What are some of your success stories in setting group norms? Let us know in the comments below. 


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